The Lawfare Podcast

On Sunday, September 27, the New York Times dropped bombshell new reporting on nearly two decades of Donald Trump's tax return data. The story has attracted enormous attention and paints a dismal picture. Donald Trump paid no personal income taxes for 11 of the past 18 years, he uses tax deductions aggressively, and last year he paid only $750 in federal income tax. So, is this a story of a president merely in massive debt, or is there something more sinister at play? To whom does the president owe all this money? And what are the national security risks of the president being in this sort of financial position? To try to break it all down, Susan Hennessey sat down with Margaret Taylor, a fellow at Brookings and senior editor at Lawfare; Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and the author of "The Toddler in Chief: What Donald Trump Teaches Us about the Modern Presidency"; and Adam Davidson, a contributing writer to The New Yorker who has written extensively on Trump's financial entanglements.

Direct download: Trump_Money_and_National_Security.mp3
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James A. Baker III has been a lawyer, a presidential campaign manager, the White House Chief of Staff for two presidents, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of State and the point person for George W. Bush in the 2000 Florida recount. His career demonstrates what it takes to acquire political power; to wield it effectively to reach bipartisan compromises, even after bitter campaigns; and to wrestle with the tension between partisan loyalty and the principles of good government.

David Priess spoke about Baker's remarkable life and career with Peter Baker of the New York Times and Susan Glasser of The New Yorker, authors of the new book, "The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III."

Direct download: Peter_Baker_and_Susan_Glasser_on_The_Man_Who_Ran_Washington.mp3
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It's been a wild few weeks with President Trump threatening to shut WeChat and TikTok out of the U.S. market and rip them out of the app stores. There have been lawsuits, a preliminary injunction—and a sudden deal to purchase TikTok and moot the issue out. To chew it all over, Benjamin Wittes spoke with Lawfare co-founder Bobby Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin Law School, and Jordan Schneider, the voice behind the podcast ChinaTalk. They talked about how we got here, whether the threat from these companies is real or whether this is more Trump nonsense, and whether the deal to save TikTok will actually work.

Direct download: TikTok_WeChat_and_Trump_Update.mp3
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Rebecca Lissner is an assistant professor at the U.S. Naval War College. Mira Rapp-Hooper is a senior fellow at Yale Law School's Paul Tsai China Center. Together, they are the authors of "An Open World: How America Can Win the Contest for 21st-Century Order." It's an ambitious book that looks beyond the liberal world order, arguing that China's rise and America's weakness render the old order obsolete. So, what will replace it? Lissner and Rapp-Hooper argue that the United States should push for an open order. They joined Benjamin Wittes to discuss why the liberal world order is failing, what role Donald Trump plays in that, whether it can be rehabilitated and what it means to have the open order that they are describing.

Direct download: An_Open_World.mp3
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This week on Lawfare's Arbiters of Truth miniseries on disinformation, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic spoke to Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation fellow at the Wilson Center, about her new book: “How to Lose the Information War: Russia, Fake News, and the Future of Conflict.” The book chronicles Nina’s journey around Europe, tracing down how information operations spearheaded by Russia have played out in countries in the former Soviet bloc, from Georgia to the Czech Republic. What do these case studies reveal about disinformation and how best to counter it—and how many of these lessons can be extrapolated to the United States? How should we understand the role of locals who get swept up in information operations, like the Americans who attended rallies in 2016 that were organized by a Russian troll farm? And what is an information war, anyway?

Direct download: Nina_Jankowicz_on_How_to_Lose_the_Information_War.mp3
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Bobby Chesney sat down with former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and Texas Congressman Chip Roy as part of the 2020 Texas Tribune Festival. They discussed Portland, DHS, domestic violence and even the shortage of civil discourse in our society.

Direct download: Portland_DHS_and_the_Rule_of_Law.mp3
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It’s not something that gets a lot of attention in American news outlets, but there remain large numbers of women and children linked with the Islamic State detained in various camps in Syria. Some of the population in the camps are native to Iraq or Syria, but there are also significant numbers who traveled to the Islamic State from outside the Middle East. Many of these travelers came from Central Asia, but a not-insignificant number of them came from various countries in Western Europe—and many of those countries shied away from efforts to bring the women back home to face trial or otherwise reintegrate into society. Who are these women? What are conditions like in the camps? What is behind the reluctance of European countries to repatriate? And how should we think about the security threat that these women pose?

Jacob Schulz talked through these issues with Vera Mironova, a research fellow at Harvard and, among other things, author of a recent Lawfare post interviewing four women in these camps, and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.

Direct download: Detention_Questions_and_the_Woman_of_the_Islamic_State.mp3
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Elizabeth Neumann served as the assistant secretary for threat prevention and security policy at the Department of Homeland Security. She has recently been speaking out about President Trump and, among other things, his failure of leadership with respect to the threat of white supremacist violence. In the course of doing so, she made reference to a book by Kathleen Belew, a historian at the University of Chicago: "Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America," a history of violent white power movements in the modern United States.

Elizabeth and Kathleen joined Benjamin Wittes to discuss the interactions of policy and the history that Belew describes. Why have we underestimated this threat for so long? How has it come to be one of the foremost threats that DHS faces? And what can we do about it, given the First Amendment?

Direct download: Elizabeth_Neumann_and_Kathleen_Belew_on_White_Power_Violence.mp3
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"After Trump: Reconstructing the Presidency," a new book published by Lawfare, is a look at the manner in which Donald Trump has disrupted the presidency across a range of areas, as well as a series of proposals for reforms to try to restore those norms that his presidency has disrupted. Its authors, Bob Bauer, former White House counsel in the Obama White House, and Jack Goldsmith, Lawfare co-founder and former OLC chief in the Bush administration, joined Benjamin Wittes to discuss they book, how they came to write it, and the specific proposals they put on the table. They talked about ethics, about disclosure, about the relationship between the Justice Department and the White House, and about what the problems are that can—and can't—be solved through reform.

Direct download: Goldsmith_and_Bauer_on_After_Trump.mp3
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In recent years, Congress has taken unprecedented steps to push back against the Trump administration's efforts to pull U.S. troops from certain long-standing deployments overseas. The most recent such provision is contained in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2021 that is currently being debated and would prohibit the president from reducing U.S. troop levels in Germany and Europe unless certain conditions are met.

But does Congress have the authority to direct these deployments, or does doing so interfere with the president's constitutional authority as commander-in-chief? To discuss these issues, Scott R. Anderson sat down with two legal experts who have written extensively on the subject: Ashley Deeks of the University of Virginia School of Law and Zachary Price of the UC Hastings College of Law. They discussed the legal limits on Congress's authority over the military, what the president's commander-in-chief authority actually entails and what it all means for the future of U.S. troop deployments overseas.

Direct download: Congress_Control_Over_the_Military.mp3
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What is the proper relationship between the CIA director and the president? How should directors handle arguably illegal orders? How important is the director's role as the nation's honest broker of information during times of crisis?

To get at these questions, David Priess sat down with Chris Whipple, a documentary filmmaker, journalist and the author of two books about the people around the president. "The Gatekeepers," based upon his documentary of the same name, examines White House chiefs of staff, and his new book, "The Spymasters: How the CIA Directors Shape History and the Future," is based on the Showtime documentary "The Spymasters: CIA in the Crosshairs," for which Whipple was the writer and executive producer. They talked about CIA directors through the last several decades and how they've impacted U.S. history and national security.

Direct download: The_Spymasters_with_Chris_Whipple.mp3
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Alexei Navalny is Russia's most prominent dissident, opposition leader and anti-corruption crusader—and the latest such person to be poisoned by the Vladimir Putin regime, which, of course, it denies. When we recorded this episode, Navalny's condition was improving as he received medical treatment in Germany. To discuss Navalny's career and why Putin chose now to attack him, Benjamin Wittes sat down with Alina Polyakova, president and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis. They talked about how Navalny has become such a thorn in the side of the Putin regime, why Putin keeps poisoning people as opposed to killing them by other means and why the Russians are so ineffective at poisonings when they undertake them.

Direct download: Alina_Polyakova_on_the_Poisoning_of_Alexei_Navalny.mp3
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Michael S. Schmidt is a reporter for The New York Times, a reporter who broke a number of key stories during the Russia investigation. He is most recently the author of "Donald Trump v. The United States: Inside the Struggle to Stop a President," a new book with exhaustive reporting on the history of the Russia investigation and the confrontations between the president and those in his administration who tried to put the brakes on his most extreme behaviors.

Schmidt joined Benjamin Wittes to talk about the book. They talked about Jim Comey and his wife Patrice; they talked about former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who was in an impossible situation as both a deep believer in the Trump agenda and an informant for the Mueller investigation; and they talked about the Mueller investigation and why it never answered those counterintelligence questions that everyone expected it to address.

Direct download: Mike_Schmidt_on_Stopping_a_President.mp3
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Peter Strzok served in the FBI from 1996 to 2018 and eventually became the deputy head of the counterintelligence division, where he supervised, among other things, the Russia investigation, both at the FBI and later under Robert Mueller. His new book is called, "Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J. Trump." Benjamin Wittes sat down with Peter for an extended conversation over Zoom, sponsored by the Georgetown Center for Security Studies, to discuss the book, Pete's own history, why he still thinks the president is compromised by the Russians and his response to criticisms of the way the Russia investigation was conducted.

Direct download: Pete_Strzok_on_Compromised.mp3
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This week on Lawfare's Arbiters of Truth series on disinformation, Alina Polyakova and Quinta Jurecic spoke with Ben Nimmo, the director of investigations at Graphika. Ben has come on the podcast before to discuss how he researches and identifies information operations, but this time he talked about one specific information operation: a campaign linked to the Internet Research Agency “troll farm.” Yes, that’s the same Russian organization that Special Counsel Robert Mueller pinpointed as responsible for Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election on social media. They’re still at it, and Graphika has just put out a report on an IRA-linked campaign that amplified content from a fake website designed to look like a left-wing news source. They discussed what Graphika found, how the IRA’s tactics have changed since 2016 and whether the discovery of the network might represent the rarest of things on the disinformation beat—a good news story.

Direct download: Ben_Nimmo_on_the_Return_of_the_Internet_Research_Agency.mp3
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It was a big week for manipulated video and audio content. In just 36 hours, senior republicans or people associated with the Trump campaign tweeted, posted or shared manipulated audio or video on social media three times, prompting backlash from media and tech companies. Last week, Lawfare's managing editor, Quinta Jurecic, and associate editor, Jacob Schulz, wrote a piece analyzing these incidents. To talk through issues of deep fakes and cheap fakes, Benjamin Wittes spoke with Quinta, Jacob and Danielle Citron, a professor of law at the Boston University School of law. They talked about who posted what on Twitter and other social media, how the companies responded, what more they could have done and whether posting manipulated video is still worth it, given how companies now respond.

Direct download: Cheap_Fakes_on_the_Campaign_Trail.mp3
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The Hatch Act has been in the news a lot recently, between the Republican National Convention's use of the White House grounds and Secretary Pompeo's decision to address the Convention from an official trip in Jerusalem. What does the law really require, what does it forbid and what does it permit? Benjamin Wittes spoke with Amanda Kane Rapp, senior counsel at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, and Lawfare senior editor Scott R. Anderson. They talked about whether the RNC violated the Hatch Act, where the rules come from and how in the future they might be changed.

Direct download: Everything_You_Wanted_to_Know_About_the_Hatch_Act.mp3
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It was a big week for the DC Circuit Court of Appeals who handed down opinions in two cases involving former presidential White House advisors. The case of Don McGahn, former White House Counsel, was decided by a panel of the court, having been kicked back to that panel by the full court earlier in the summer. The case of Michael Flynn was decided by the full court, reversing a panel that had earlier ordered a lower court judge to throw the criminal case out.

It's a dizzying series of events involving a complex bunch of cases. To talk through it, Benjamin Wittes got together with Lawfare senior editor Scott Anderson who clerked on the DC Circuit, and Jonathan David Shaub, a professor at the University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law. They talked about the Flynn case, the McGahn case, the en banc court vs. the panels that it has generated, and where the cases are going next.

Direct download: A_Busy_Week_at_the_DC_Circuit.mp3
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This week on Lawfare's Arbiters of Truth series on disinformation, Evelyn Douek and Quinta Jurecic spoke with Alissa Starzak, the head of public policy at Cloudflare—a company that provides key components of the infrastructure that helps websites stay online. They talked about two high-profile incidents in which Cloudflare decided to pull its services from websites publishing or hosting extremist, violent content. In August 2017, after the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Cloudflare’s CEO Matthew Prince announced that he would no longer be providing service to the Neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer. Two years later, Cloudflare also pulled service from the forum 8chan after the forum was linked to a string of violent attacks.

They talked about what Cloudflare actually does and why blocking a website from using its services has such a big effect. They also discussed how Cloudflare—which isn’t a social media platform like Facebook or Twitter—thinks about its role in deciding what content should and shouldn’t stay up.

Direct download: Alissa_Starzak_on_Cloudflare.mp3
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Last week, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe informed Congress that elections security briefings in the run-up to the 2020 election would no longer be oral. There would be written intelligence product only, and there would be no Q&A sessions. Members of Congress are not happy about it.

To discuss the the change, Benjamin Wittes spoke with David Priess, a former CIA briefer who used to do briefings like this, and Margaret Taylor, a former congressional staffer who used to consume briefings like this. They discussed how big a change this actually is, whether it will stick and what tools Congress has to push back against it.

Direct download: Briefings_Schmiefings.mp3
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On August 13, President Trump said in a news interview that he opposed supplemental funding for the United States Postal Service because such funding is needed for the delivery of universal mail-in ballots for the 2020 election. His comments sparked panic about whether the Trump administration is slowing Postal Service delivery in order to sway the election. Images of blue mailboxes being removed and anecdotes about slow mail delivery added fuel to the fire. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy was called to testify before Senate and House oversight committees. Lawsuits were filed by a host of state Attorneys General.

So what’s really going on here? Is this election interference, the implementation of legitimate policies or something else? Margaret Taylor sat down with Kevin Kosar of the American Enterprise Institute and Anne Joseph O’Connell of Stanford Law School to sort through the facts, the policy changes, the investigations and the lawsuits—and what it all means for the 2020 election.

Direct download: Election_Anxieties_and_the_US_Postal_Service.mp3
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